Page 19 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Forcing payments by direct debit? Trying to cling on to deposit money?
Heed the paying customer
In recent years there has been
a noticeable increase in some methods employed by schools to secure or increase their income
from fee-paying parents. With real incomes being squeezed, it is not surprising that these can give rise to complaints, but many parents do not feel comfortable in voicing them.
The two I hear of the most are the introduction of payment of fees by direct debit, and the return of deposits when a pupil leaves the school.
Paying fees by direct debit,
rather than in a lump sum at
the beginning of each term, has gradually become more common. Schools normally contract this out to a  nance provider, because if they run their own schemes of any size they will have to obtain
a Consumer Credit licence - yet another regulatory burden.
Sub-contracting it to a specialist leaves the Bursar’s of ce with reduced administration, less
bad debt risk and no cash- ow disadvantage. The cost of  nance
is all passed on to the fee-payer, who may prefer the ease of monthly payments and need the credit. But then they may not.
What may have been introduced as an option is in some schools, now being presented either as mandatory, or as normal practice which parents are expected to follow. Governors may use the argument that such a scheme reduces bad debts. This is questionable and the effect is likely to be immaterial to the school’s  nances. Bad debts are most often incurred when there is a marital breakdown. Leaving the collection of unpaid fees to a point where
a direct debit cannot be collected by an outside agency, could make resolution of the problem worse. Clear policy and routine actions will minimise bad debts, whichever way the fees are paid.
The return of deposits at the end
of a pupil’s time at a school is a different issue, but is also being introduced in some cases by what parents may well see as coercion. This may be by way of suggestion that the deposit be donated to
the school to help with bursaries,
or some other development plan. Some schools have adopted stronger tactics – by saying the deposit
will be used in this way unless the parents opt out. The request may come from the bursar’s of ce and
parents may feel obliged to comply, particularly if they have younger siblings still at the school.
It does beg the question as to whether parents are being dealt with openly and correctly. If the funds are donated by parents for bursaries, then this should form part of a restricted bursaries fund, shown as such in the accounts.
Voluntary donors to any good cause like to be thanked and also expect transparency, so some form of reporting on these donations should be done by the school. If parents are feeling they are being pressurised into making this kind of giving, that cannot be helpful to the school’s goodwill.
Mixing a Bursar’s role as business manager of the school and voluntary fundraiser is not a good idea. It would be better coming from the development of ce, completely separate to fee collection and
return. If this is voluntary income
for a charitable school, then the point that both school and parents receive the bene t of gift aid may be helpfully persuasive.
Initiatives such as these may well be initiated by the Governing body.
In my experience the most hawkish governors on fee collection and expectation of additional voluntary giving are other parent governors, who will be good payers and prepared to give of their time freely. They may not be aware of unspoken resistance on the part of other parents to policies such as these.
My advice to parents who do not wish to comply with practices requiring them to pay by monthly direct debit or contribute deposits held by the school to a bursary fund, is simply to say no.
Few bursars will turn away fee- paying customers and a compromise might be to agree to pay by direct debit in the event of a termly payment being late.
Similarly, schools should only introduce direct debit payments as an option, maybe with a compulsory fall-back.
Voluntary donations should not
be raised in such a way that the donor feels they have been taken advantage of but rather that they feel good about giving. Hopefully also, that leads to increased goodwill and possibly further support in the future.
included:
How can schools increase or secure income whilst retaining the goodwill of parents? Henry Briggs,
senior partner at the Birmingham of ce of chartered accountants Haines Watts, and a former school governor who acts for both independent and state schools, looks into some practices bursars use to raise income.
£900k investment
Building work
Bickley Park School, Kent, has invested £900,000 to improve its facilities over the summer.
The school was founded in 1918 and still operates from the original buildings, which are spread over two sites split into prep and pre-prep.
Modernisation work has been carried out on both sites in recent years, alongside extensions to house new facilities such as a theatre and music studio. Samik Patel, assistant head and director of school development, said the summer’s works
overhauled some areas that had become tired, while providing extra classroom space for the growing pupil population.
“These works will complete our cycle of investment in the pre-prep department. This has been planned to tie in with our strategy of ‘building from the bottom’ – giving our pupils the best possible grounding as they start their educational journey,” he added.
“The development scheme will signi cantly enhance our facilities making the school an exciting place to learn.”
• Overhauling the pre-prep reception area, creating a registrar’s of ce and improving entrance security.
• Replacing a dining area and staff room with extra Year 1 and 2 classrooms.
• Creating a dining room and kitchen facilities in place of two existing classrooms.
• Improving the sports hall with upgrades to lighting, heating and equipment.
• Building three state-of-the-art reception classrooms.
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